Getting married, for all of its hard work and expense – and fun! – is easy compared to staying married. Staying married is a completely different kind of challenge. Couples who love one another will find that it usually isn’t difficult to express their affection. But two people who merge their lives through marriage will most likely have to work hard to build a life together. In particular, they will have to work hard to find constructive ways to accommodate the inevitable differences that already exist or which might arise between them over time.
– Money: In almost every relationship one person tends to be the “accelerator” and the other person tends to be the “brake.” In other words, one person spends money more easily than the other. How can a couple steer the car of marriage together without crashing? Who brings in the money, and who has the power over the purse? What happens if one or both partners bring heavy debt into the relationship?
– Disagreements: The first married couple who lives without disagreements, disappointments, or disillusionment will be unique in the human race. The comedian Chris Rock always evokes strong laughter and applause when he says in his routine, “If you haven’t contemplated murder at least once in your marriage, then you haven’t really been in love.” The main issue here is what strategies are used to handle conflicts, and which ones are most likely to succeed. Which strategies can strengthen the relationship and which approaches can actually harm it? You must have watched your parents argue. Did they do a good job of settling differences? If not, do you really know how to do better?
– Sex: What values and expectations surround the couples’ sexuality? What are the best ways for you to learn how to please your partner and to be pleased? How do expectations get most easily expressed, and what behaviors might be “deal-breakers?” No two libidos are totally in sync. How do you accommodate differences? How do you keep sex interesting? What changes can occur at the time of pregnancy and parenthood?
– Children: Are children eagerly anticipated – or unwelcome? What if only one partner wants children? How late is “too late” to start having a family? What birth control methods are acceptable to both partners? Are there children of previous marriages to be blended?
– Families: How supportive are the parents of the bride and groom? Every wedding is likely a “funeral” for someone in attendance – most often a parent or sibling. What kind of support or change in relationship does the new couple need from their parents, siblings, and friends? Which persons need to be prevented from interfering in the new relationship?
– Religion (or none): Most couples do not share a common religious heritage. Many have none at all. What role, if any, does religion or different religious traditions play in creating family values and participating in family traditions? What takes the place of religious values and traditions if there are none?
– Legal: What issues of inheritance need to be considered? Is a “prenup” desired? Does the new couple bring into this marriage legal and/or financial obligations from previous relationships? Are there jurisdictional problems related to a non-traditional marriage? Are there trans-national issues if the individuals to be married are from different countries? Are there issues of child support?
– Private time: Every individual needs time and activities that are his or hers alone. However much a new couple may enjoy doing things together, it will be important for each person to have some time and activities to oneself in the context of the relationship. Instead of detracting from the relationship, such time apart will refresh and feed the time the couple is able to spend together.
– And not last and not certainly least, what role does Social Media play in the individual lives of the couple and how will that likely change in the marriage? Is there internet activity that will be considered a betrayal of the relationship? What if “screen time” dominates or seriously interferes with the couples’ “face time?” And how much screen time is good for children, and when can it be abused as a substitute for good parenting?
Every couple getting married will have some combination of the issues above – and more – to deal with and resolve to maintain their relationship. Where there is immediate and profound agreement, no problem. But where there are differences to resolve, there is work to be done. And, ultimately, only the couple can resolve the differences! But dealing with them begins – and hopefully ends – with a conversation.
It is easy for a new couple, – and even easier for a couple who have lived together for years! – to get stuck in trying to resolve differences. So having these conversations in the presence of a sensitive and knowledgeable third person, someone trusted by both partners, can often be very helpful. That person can be an older and wiser relative, a clergy-person, a marriage counselor or other trained professional. Conversations with a third person present can help a couple become open to discussion of issues that might otherwise be ignored or avoided. It can help them to better listen to each other, and try to lead them towards a win-win solution. A couple that talks to one another regularly, courageously, and honestly will be better equipped to fulfill the promises made in the wedding ceremony. It is important to remember: you are not – and need not be – alone in confronting the difficult but rewarding work of staying happily married. You can expect bumps in the path of your relationship. Getting over these bumps together in a spirit of partnership will deepen your respect and love for one another. And that is what you want at the center of your marriage.
I am by no means an expert in all the subjects mentioned above. Nor am I a formally trained marriage counselor. But I am available to help a couple open a conversation about any of these issues and assist them in finding resources appropriate for dealing with them.
Couples who choose me as a wedding officiant will get a free article called, “HOW TO HAVE AN ARGUMENT – and still stay married!”
For self-administered assistance check the link below:
Marriage 101. And on-line self-administered pre-marital and marital counseling guide. It has a Christian orientation but can be useful for all couples. http://marriage101online.com/products